Category: Works of Plato

Modern Editions of Plato

Rudiments of the critical reception and dissemination of Plato’s works over the past two centuries.

The earliest editions of Plato’s works, mainly the Aldina (1513) and Stephanus’ edition (1578), continued to constitute the main vehicle for the reception of Plato’s works up to the early 19th century. In terms of the translations of that period, it appears that many of these, mainly French and Italian, were rather based on Ficino’s Latin rendition (1484), not on the Greek original text.

The first critical edition of Plato’s dialogues appeared in 1816 and was prepared by Immanuel Bekker. This edition comprised eight volumes, to which another two, containing commentary with critical notes, were added later (1823). Bekker was the first Platonist to conduct systematic philological research, examining and juxtaposing multiple manuscripts. He dedicated his edition to Schleiermacher, whose contemporary translations paved the way for and decisively influenced the reception of Plato’s work in German-speaking countries.

Bekker’s predilection for the celebrated Bodleian Codex Clarkianus was only tempered towards the late 19th century, when it became clear that the various codices cannot be derived from a single origin, but reflect multiple, distinct traditions and genealogies. Concerted philological work during that period produced exquisite editions of individual Platonic dialogues, characteristic of which is Jowett and Campbell’s edition of the Republic. Burnet’s famous Oxford edition appeared next, published in the series Oxford Classical Texts, which remains the most authoritative full reference edition, despite the fact that Budé’s French bilingual edition is sometimes superior in terms philological completeness.

Painstaking examination and assessment of the codices in the 20th century led to improved editions of individual Platonic dialogues, such as Dodd’s Gorgias , and Bluck’s Meno . This suggested that the Oxford edition was in need of revision. The first volume of the new edition of the Oxford Classical Texts series to replace Burnet’s edition was published in 1995. This is an ambitious undertaking, which seeks to sum up a century’s worth of laborious philological work by utilizing manuscript material, papyri, secondary testimonies, as well as the largely inaccessible wealth of critical observations. The first volume of this effort has been positively received by critics, but few are confident that it will produce noticeably emended versions of Plato's works. In the context of this project, a separate edition of the Republic followed in 2003.

In recent decades, electronic access to Platonic texts has become increasingly important. The digital library Perseus occupies a central position here: the website offers open access to the entire Platonic corpus both in the original Greek and in English translation. Plato’s texts are, naturally, included in the limited-access database Thesaurus Linguae Graecae.

Finally, with respect to the translations of Plato’s complete works in major European languages, the following publications stand out:

– the English translation by Hackett Publishing , and the bilingual edition in the handy volumes of the Loeb series ;

– the French translation by Flammarion publishing group , and the bilingual edition in the Budé series ;

– the German bilingual edition that contains Schleiermacher’s translation, slightly revised.

Author: Panagiotis Thanassas
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